Monday, April 11, 2011

Robert Munsch, Fantasy Author

I was shelving books at work the other day when I realized who my first fantasy author love was. I generally credit Tolkien as my first exposure to fantasy, followed by Douglas Adams for science fiction, but that's actually not true. My first fantasy writer, that I remember at least, is a guy named Robert Munsch. He's Canadian and has been going strong since the 1980s. In fact, he was going so strong back then that's he's one of the icons of my generation, and the generation after mine, at least in Canada. I can't speak for his icon status for the kids growing up now, however.

Robert Munsch writes picture books with a bent for audience participation. There are actions. There are sound effects. There are absolutely ludicrous scenarios. And many of the books currently branded as "Classic Munsch" explore fantasy, sci-fi, and the power of imagination. They paint pictures of worlds where it's possible to live in subway stations, or be fathered by giants, or find small children in deep pits in sandboxes, or in sock drawers. Children fly airplanes and drive fire trucks. I couldn't get enough of them … and I may still sneak in a couple pages when I'm supposed to be working.

An incomplete list of his books:

  • Mud Puddle - Every time a girl goes outside, a giant mud puddle jumps out of where it's hiding and attacks her.
  • The Paper Bag Princess - A princess travels to a dragon's cave, outwits the dragon, and rescues her prince, after a fashion.
  • David's Father - The new kid in school has a dad who uses a shovel for a spoon and has giant furniture. (He's adopted.)
  • 50 Below Zero - A boy's father is a chronic sleepwalker, which isn't really a good thing in the middle of Canadian winters. Luckily, hypothermia isn't a problem and the dad thaws quickly.
  • Purple, Green, and Yellow - Brigid likes coloring herself with markers. One day, she colors so much of herself that the only way to get rid of the colors is to take a pill that makes her invisible.
  • A Promise is a Promise - An Inuit girl trades her siblings to a sea monster in return for going free.
  • Jonathan Cleaned Up—And Then He Heard a Sound - A boy discovers that the reason people keep rushing through his living room is because his house has been rezoned as a subway station.
  • Alligator Baby - A family's new baby ends up swapped for an alligator at the hospital.
Now, these books aren't high literature. The language is simple and sound effects often span a page. But y'know, they're aimed at 3-6 year olds, and they work just fine. A lot of the stories are surprisingly complex, too, and good launch points for discussions. Munsch writes a lot of non-SF books as well, which are just as good, and are about things every kid dreams about or can understand (Thomas's Snowsuit, I Have To Pee!, Pigs, The Fire Station, Stephanie's Ponytail). They're fun, and the simple languages means kids can read the books themselves, and I definitely recommend Munsch to parents looking to entertain their toddlers and kindergarteners. Especially if said parents are geeks and/or attempting to instill feminist/egalitarian outlooks. There are a lot of girls, doing a lot of awesome things.

Do you have favourite picture book writers? Who was your first introduction to fantasy?

1 comment:

Kathleen said...

I absolutely adore The Paper Bag Princess and feel incredibly lucky to have read it as a child. The idea that A: The Princess could save the Prince and that B: The Princess could DUMP the Prince and skip off into the sunset was, in hindsight (because, really, at five I'm not sure I fully appreciated it)pretty brilliant.